Jeff Gordon’s Return Not in Vain for Hendrick Motorsports

While Jeff Gordon’s return to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has been pedestrian to his stellar standards, his presence to assist Hendrick Motorsports and his sidelined teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr in the No. 88 ride has not been in vain.

Yes, Gordon has not won races since coming back to the driver’s seat last month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  It would be foolish to ignore that he has appeared a bit rusty, particularly with restarts at Indy and speeding on pit road at Pocono.

However, Gordon still has that competitive edge that has been a staple of his remarkable Cup career.  With 93 Cup wins, four championships, 325 top-fives, and 475 top-10’s in 800 starts, the 45-year-old Vallejo, CA native has proven himself and shown that he can get the job done on any given race day.

A familiar seat for a trailblazer in NASCAR.

A familiar seat for a trailblazer in NASCAR.

Considering the fact that Gordon had been out of a racecar since last November and commentating for FOX NASCAR earlier in the year, very few could appreciate what he’s had to do in his relief racer role.  Although he rarely uses it as an excuse, it is no secret that his back has been a lingering problem at times when he’s in that driver’s seat.

Still, with the experience and success that Gordon has attained over the years, Hendrick Motorsports has been able to gain valuable input and feedback from him in terms of improving their overall effort with their package.  It’s no secret that the organization has struggled over the past year and a half, as Joe Gibbs Racing’s Toyota quartet and Team Penske’s two-car effort have leapfrogged them as powerhouse NASCAR efforts.

Teammates Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, and Chase Elliott have experienced some of the struggles that Gordon has dealt with in his return.  Hendrick Motorsports has been working ardently with trying to close the competitive gap between the Gibbs and Penske forces and themselves, whether it’s in the speed department or improving the handling of their fleet of cars.

The desire and drive to succeed is very much alive with Gordon in even the most strangest set of circumstances he’s faced in his career.  Relieving a teammate who’s arguably one of the most popular drivers in the sport while also dusting himself off from his retirement last season has been an interesting chapter for this storied driver’s career.

Working on the night moves.

Working on the night moves.

There have been flashes of brilliance with Gordon’s return.  A top-10 finish was likely in the offing for Gordon and the No. 88 team at Pocono before the seat belt issue cropped up.  Despite crinkling up the front clip of the car early at Watkins Glen, he ran solidly in the top-15 and wound up taking home his second top-15 finish in his three race return.

Those in the know realize that Gordon is being a key team player for his longtime Cup boss and friend Rick Hendrick.  After all, it was Hendrick who believed in him back in 1992, signing him to his organization when the thought of a young racer in a quality Cup ride was absurd.

Since the 1992 season finale, Gordon has been one of the key factors for NASCAR’s evolution as a mainstream sport. He’s grown up over the years from a mustached young racer who tried to fit in with his peers to a man who has set the standard of excellence for Cup racing.

Full-time or relief racing, Gordon gives it his all with his racing efforts.

Full-time or relief racing, Gordon gives it his all with his racing efforts.

The number of drivers who have been influenced by his racing career has to be countless, catalyzing the careers of many racers who now race full-time in the sport that he’s given everything to for the past 25 years.  Walk around the Cup or XFINITY Series garage and Gordon is likely a name that many young racers cite as an inspiration with their careers.

Part-time Jeff Gordon has not hurt Hendrick Motorsports with his return in the No. 88 car.  He has not hurt his racing career.

While he’s yet to lead a lap and raise his arms in Victory Lane, he has been a true team player, aiding a teammate in recovery with concussion-like symptoms along with doing what he has done in his past 800 races – being Jeff Gordon.  Tonight’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway may just be the venue where Gordon reminds critics that he can still get the job done.

Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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